Courteous Canine: The Fallout from Punishment
by Jane Finneran, Certified Dog Trainer
To use punishment effectively, the owner has to have not only a perfect understanding of dog behavior but impeccable timing, as well. If an owner has that, he does not need punishment. Managing a behavior is better than punishing it. Dogs are not born with an inherent knowledge about how to live in a house or ride in a car or walk on a leash; they need to be taught. These traits were not bred into dogs through evolution. Instead, dogs evolved behaviors like chasing prey, digging dens, and barking at danger (these are a few of the many complaints about dogs I get each week).
The fallout from punishment can ruin your dog physically and mentally. It may cause harm to the animal (for example, choke chains and prong collars can cause problems with the trachea, thyroid, and even the eyes); it can cause the dog to become fearful and generalize this fear to other objects (for example, if the shock collar involves a beep, then stoves, alarms, and timers can also frighten your pet); and it can suppress warning behaviors (for example, punishing a growl can lead to a sudden attack that you don’t have time to prevent).
Punishment does not teach the dog to do what we want. Kneeing or kicking a dog that is jumping up does not teach the dog that we want her to sit or put all four paws on the ground. Teaching a behavior that is incompatible with the unwanted act (for example, a sitting dog can’t jump) is far more effective.
Finally and most importantly, punishment can lead to a bad association with the person administering the deed. Punishment can ruin the bond of trust between the owner and dog. The dog now sees the owner as unpredictable, since punishment is often used when the owner is angry. It’s even worse when the anger comes after the dog’s unwanted act (for example, when the owner comes home to find the sofa destroyed). If the owner yells and hits the dog because his last pair of shoes is ruined, the dog has no idea why it is being punished and only understands that the person is ranting and raving uncontrollably. (And no, showing the dog your shoes doesn’t help.)
Teaching dogs what we do want and then rewarding good behavior is really the decent way to train.
Consider a training course with Jane Finneran. All proceeds to benefit ARF. Jane Finneran CPDT has been helping dogs with their owners for over 20 years.